faith in action

Ministry With: GateWAY Loft

In San Diego, California, immigrants and refugees face hunger, homelessness and other financial concerns. GateWAY Loft at Christ Ministry Center is helping those in need.

Immigrants and refugees face a special set of circumstances that impact their civil and human rights. Opportunities to establish roots in a new home are often severely obstructed and economic challenges are common. Hunger and homelessness are just some of the possible results of these financial concerns.

One ministry in San Diego, California has been stepping in to mind the gap with their neighbors. We spoke with Pastor Bill Jenkins to learn more.

Tell us about the ministry.

The GateWAY Loft was conceived as a ministry of Christ United Methodist Ministry Center (CMC), a 501©3 non-profit urban ministry in San Diego, California. The original intent in early 2016 was to provide free, temporary, emergency shelter for re-entering incarcerated women in conjunction with Welcome Home Ministries, a women’s prison ministry based at CMC.

However, in June 2016, before we could even implement the women’s prison re-entry shelter, over 5,000 Haitian refugees began arriving in San Diego from Brazil where they had gone after the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Because CMC had a small Haitian Ministry, CMC and the GateWAY Loft became a shelter for them. The Loft itself could not accommodate the volume of people, and most of them slept on the pews and under the pews in the Sanctuary, and on the floors of the hallways and common areas.

Most of the Haitians stayed in CMC and The Loft for a few days or weeks before moving to family or support systems in places like Miami.

What dream is the ministry pursuing?

Following Jesus’ instruction to “welcome strangers” we hope to encourage other congregations to provide shelter for refugees. Our dream is to expand our GateWAY Loft model to a nationwide Safe Harbors Network (SafeHarbors.NET). It is a network of congregations, organizations and individuals who can provide limited shelter either directly (in their house of worship or parishioner’s home) or indirectly through funds (for motels, housing, etc.). Based on our experiences in 2016, the greatest need of refugees and immigrants is shelter. The Safe Harbors concept would greatly increase the capacity potential for the population that may be served. Safe Harbors is a much-needed updated alternative to “Sanctuary”, to which most churches cannot or will not commit. Safe Harbors helps define the parameters (length of stay, resources required, shared responsibilities, best practices) so that congregations who cannot become “sanctuary churches” can participate in this “sanctuary lite” adaptation. Most importantly, these immigrants have documentation and arrived by referrals from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Is there a particular moment or memory that stands out for you?

One day when pressing my way through the mass of humanity in our building at the height of the refugee crisis, the Holy Spirit impressed upon me to look each person in the eye. I was viewing them as a large group of Haitian refugees. That they were. But each is an individual, a person created in the image of God, loved by God, and whose life is as important to the Heavenly Father as mine.

What have your neighbors (those utilizing services) taught you in doing this work?

By making room for the Haitians in our building, I have made room for them in my heart. Consequently, by welcoming these strangers, I have increased “my family” a thousand-fold.

What challenges have you encountered, and how have you adapted?

Capacity has been a huge issue from the start. The City now tells us we can accommodate six in our emergency shelter, but we rarely have six or less, including pregnant women and women with small children. At least 18 babies have been born to mothers while in our Loft over the past year

What advice would you give to others who are working to be in ministry *with?

If every one of the over quarter million congregations in the USA would welcome just one refugee or immigrant family, what a difference it would make.

How can people contact you if they are inspired by your ministry?

Pastor Bill Jenkins 3295 Meade Ave San Diego CA 92116 (619) 723-1371 mobile